How a ‘Magical’ Direct Mailer Made a Big Splash for Baylor University’s Recruitment Efforts
Direct mail works, but is it an effective channel for Gen Z, those born after 1996? The answer may surprise you. The power of direct mail was on full display in a direct mail campaign from Baylor University designed to attract student enrollment, which was named an “Irresistible Mail Award Finalist” from the U.S. Postal Service. Baylor’s “Water Reveal” campaign uses a unique printing invention that reveals messages only when wet. It was such a hit, in fact, that the University used it for four years running.
STANDING OUT IN THE CROWD
Like all colleges and universities today, student recruitment is essential. Texas itself has 144 colleges and universities, and most of these institutions recruit from well outside their immediate boundaries. As the oldest continually operating university in Texas, Baylor could easily be overlooked in favor of other large institutions. How does it begin to compete against an array of schools, many of which may have lower tuition rates?
One of its key answers is direct marketing, and savvy direct marketing at that, says Brad Bartlett, president and owner of Opti Print and Fulfillment, the agency that helped Baylor produce the “Water Reveal” campaign.
“Direct mail has an impact,” Bartlett says. “It’s still the perfect medium.”
“Direct mail is always a great way to drive home a point, both to younger college recruits as well as to parents who aren’t necessarily on the mailing list. Afterwards, the piece can prompt social media postings, and it gets good word of mouth.”
Assistant Director of Enrollment Marketing
A UNIQUE INVENTION AND THEME
Baylor’s “Water Reveal” campaign was devised by Opti Print using a unique invention of Bartlett’s — messages on postcards that appear only when wet. As it happens, the theme tied in perfectly for Baylor, which is situated on the banks of the Brazos River in Waco. Adding even more spice to the campaign was the recent opening of the school’s new $260 million McLane football stadium, whose horse-shoeshaped design opens directly on the Brazos. This allows fans to “sailgate” up to the stadium in their boats and take in the action.
“Baylor fell in love with Water Reveal but were unsure initially of how to use it as a recruitment tool,” Bartlett says. “I asked them what they were trying to communicate, and they said that ‘Baylor is cool and up-to-date.’ Well, the football stadium is the newest building on campus, and you can canoe or kayak right up and catch the game from the water. And I said, ‘That’s it!’
“It was one of those ideal things, where the technology fit perfectly with what they were trying to
Baylor University wanted to create a unique direct mail piece that would highlight what sets the university apart while standing out in the competitive college recruitment environment.
Baylor needed to differentiate itself from some of the other big-name universities in the state
The “Water Reveal” direct mail campaign, devised by Opti Print, used secret messaging that could be revealed when wet. The theme of the campaign tied in perfectly with Baylor since it is situated on the banks of the Brazos River in Waco, Texas.
The campaign resulted in a move from a 0.5% response rate to as much as 5% on application requests.
One of the 9x6" postcard mailings featured a full-color image of the stadium at the water’s edge, with the tagline, “Next year, immerse yourself in the Baylor experience.” Other messages were “Keep cool with a walk along the Brazos River,” “Take a break at the Baylor Marina,” and “Enjoy the beauty and exciting features of the Rosenbalm Fountain located in the heart of the campus at Fountain Mall.” It even highlighted a renowned Baylor professor for his research into clean water resources.
The other side of the postcard appeared to feature only the school’s mascot, the Baylor Bear, who urged the recipient to “Just add water. Seriously, run water over this card.” When wet, the newly revealed message alerted the recipient that, “Our free application is now open … apply now!” After a few minutes, the message fades, prompting the prospective student to wet the card again to make sure to note the registration URL — and perhaps to try it again and again, just for fun!
Bartlett says the campaign “immediately moved the needle” on applications requests, from 0.5% response rate to as much as 5%. “They were sending out more packets of information and getting more web hits than ever. And the spill-over benefit was that people were thinking Baylor is cool!” he says.
“Direct mail has an impact. It’s still the perfect medium.”
Opti Print and Fulfillment
A DIRECT MAIL COMMITMENT
Lindsay Ray plans to continue using direct mail in support of Baylor recruitment efforts, in particular, innovative pieces in keeping with the uniqueness of “Water Reveal.”
“We are constantly evaluating what we’re doing, and shifting strategies for each recruiting class,” Ray says. “‘Water Reveal’ was intended to create a big splash, and it really stuck in people’s minds.”
A RECENT PROMOTION HIGHLIGHTED BAYLOR’S 2021 “SUMMER OF DISCOVERY,” COMPLETE WITH A VIEWMASTER IMAGE VIEWER. THE FAMILIAR IMAGE DISK HIGHLIGHTED IMAGES OF THE CAMPUS AND ANNOUNCED TUITION DISCOUNTS AS STUDENTS GRADUALLY RETURN TO LIVE CLASSES